The second pairing in the AFC Wild Card round of the playoffs features arguably the league's best story of the season in the Indianapolis Colts, rolling with head coach Chuck Pagano now back on the sidelines. They'll travel to take on a Baltimore Ravens team on Sunday that will begin another postseason run, carrying along preseason Super Bowl expectations.
Baltimore rested key starters in its 23-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17, but still dropped four of the last five games of the regular season, which left the team with a record of 10-6 after starting the 2012 campaign 9-2. The Colts, on the other hand, played their starters in Week 17 against the Houston Texans, even though their playoff seed was assured, and got an emotional 28-16 victory. Indianapolis finished the season as winners of five of the team's final six ballgames.
Meet the Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens, as mentioned above, were 9-2 and sitting pretty for postseason positioning in the AFC before a late-season swoon dropped them to the conference's fourth seed. Quarterback Joe Flacco had an up-and-down year, throwing for 3,817 yards -- completing 59.7 percent of his tosses -- along with 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Defensively, Baltimore gave up 350.9 yards per game, which ranked 17th in the league. They tied with the New York Giants for 12th in the NFL in points allowed, surrendering 21.5 points per game.
Meet the Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis was headed by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians for most of the season, as Pagano recovered and rehabilitated from leukemia treatment to coach the Colts in their Week 17 win over the Texans. Throughout the season, however, Pagano has been a major source of inspiration in Indianapolis and across the NFL, as he will make his return to Baltimore, where he previously served as the defensive coordinator.
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck has also been a major factor in the Colts' overhaul. For the season, Luck threw for 4,374 yards (the seventh-highest total in the league) -- completing 54.1 percent of his passes -- with 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
Local Takes: Ravens
Lastcallbmore from Baltimore Beat Down says the Ravens' defense can make a statement in the postseason:
They have a strong game plan and all the right pieces of the puzzle returning to make a deep playoff run. They will have a big test week one against the Indianapolis Colts who are lead by a man who spent four years in Baltimore and knows this team like the back of his hand. Perhaps the best thing the Ravens did was fire Cam Cameron when they did. I'm sure Chuck Pagano would have known every play Cameron would have thrown at him.
Local Takes: Colts
Josh Wilson from Stampede Blue says the Colts could be peaking at the right time:
The offense was very good, the defense was very good, and the special teams was very good. It was the best overall performance of the year from a Colts team that hadn't exactly been overwhelmingly impressive recently. But today, they played great as a team and enter the postseason on a high note. Next Sunday at 1:00 p.m., the Colts will take on the AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore. The Ravens are losers of 4 of their last 5 and are certainly beatable - and honestly, I wouldn't want to play this Colts team right now.
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Ravens Longshot To Win Super Bowl sbn.to/TuuFDl— Bruce Raffel (@BaltimoreBeatdo) January 1, 2013
Pagano: 'We Do NOT Want To Lose Bruce Arians' sbn.to/Uj2fel— Brad Wells (BBS) (@StampedeBlue) January 1, 2013
@jamisonhensley - Jamison Hensley, AFC North blogger for ESPN.com.
@CBSColts - Colts news from CBSSports.com 's Evan Hilbert.
The Colts are 7-1 when Luck completes 20 or fewer passes.— Colts RapidReports (@CBSColts) December 30, 2012
From the Wild Card picks, Joel Thorman picks the Colts to win 27-24:
The Ravens were a team I had going to the Super Bowl before the season, but things aren't looking quite so hot anymore, losing four of their last five. Three of those losses were to playoff teams -- Bengals, Broncos, and Redskins. After Sunday, add another one to the loss column.
Baltimore opened the week as 6½-point favorites, according to OddsShark, and the line currently remains there. The over/under point total for the contest began at 46, and that number is also in the same place.
Depending on the winner of the Cincinnati Bengals-Houston Texans playoff tilt on Saturday afternoon, either the Ravens or Colts could end up in Denver taking on the Broncos or facing the Patriots in New England.